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As China Tries To Slow Coronavirus' Spread, Ripple Effects Continue

NOEL KING, HOST:

The director of a hospital in Wuhan, China, has died of COVID-19. His is one of the most high-profile deaths from the coronavirus disease. The World Health Organization says China has had more than 70,000 cases.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, here in the U.S., the number of cases under investigation has grown after 300 Americans were evacuated off the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Florida couple Gay Courter and her husband Philip were among the cruise passengers flown back from Japan on special charter flights.

GAY COURTER: We've managed so far to stay healthy, but that plane ride opened up a world of microorganisms. We had port-a-potties bolted to the floor for bathrooms and boxed lunches. Very difficult to breathe for 12 hours and sleep in a mask, I found out.

KING: The two of them are in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. And Gay told us it's like a military motel and it is humid.

COURTER: I'd say our biggest problem at the minute is jet lag and the air conditioning not working in our room. And they said they're going to send an engineer in a hazmat suit.

GREENE: Best-case scenario, she expects this new quarantine to last 14 days. But she says they are grateful to be on solid ground in the U.S.

COURTER: We walked into the airplane hangar, and there were military people clapping and cheering for us. And that's when I broke down in tears. It was just overwhelming relief.

KING: So as the U.S. works to keep down the number of sick people here, China is trying to slow down the spread of this illness there.

NPR correspondent Emily Feng is following the story from Beijing. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: Are there any signs of progress?

FENG: In China, yes. If people - if you believe the official statistics are complete, then today was a really good day. There were just over 1,800 new cases. Most of them were in the virus epicenter, which is Hubei province. There were fewer than a hundred deaths. So it seems like the virus is now slowing down its spread to the rest of China. That's the good news.

The bad news is these numbers are likely not complete because only one province right now, which is Hubei province, the most heavily afflicted, discloses what it calls clinical cases, people who have the symptoms of the virus but haven't been officially tested. Other provinces have this data, but they don't disclose it publicly.

KING: We're now also, Emily, starting to see ripple effects, the longer-term ripple effects from this. One of the biggest companies in the world, Apple, is saying their revenue is going to be hurt by the coronavirus. Why is that?

FENG: Part of it is demand. People are staying at home, and so they're not shopping as much. Another big part of it is supply. There aren't enough workers to power the factories that make and assemble Apple's products. A few days ago, I went to factories belonging to Pegatron and to Foxconn. These are the top two suppliers for Apple and a lot of other electronics brands.

And these factories are barely running because they have no workers. The only people they have is this skeleton team who didn't leave for the holidays before the outbreak happened. They were supposed to be relieved by people coming back from the holidays, but those people are stuck at home because of quarantine measures all over the country. Here's what one Pegatron worker told me.

UNIDENTIFIED PEGATRON EMPLOYEE: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: She's saying, "our manager called student interns to work during the outbreak, but there were only seven or eight left so they called in all the other workers as well."

We've heard this from dozens of workers from these two companies. These student workers are basically just poorly paid students from vocational colleges, but they'll need to go back to school soon.

KING: In the meantime, 760 million people are under one form of lockdown or another. How is the Chinese government managing to pull that off?

FENG: There are various apps that require people to self-report their travel history and itinerary. I've filled those out before. China's state telecoms can also track where your phone goes. But the methods are largely low-tech - these millions of people who knock on doors, take your temperature daily and make sure that you're not wandering outside more than you need to.

KING: OK. NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng. Emily, thanks so much.

FENG: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.